Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Little Late: McDowell's Buzzing Impediment

     I apologize for the delay in addressing this unique ruling, especially since it occurred during the Masters and received some notoriety, but I think others covered it fairly well.
    During the final round of the Masters, McDowell was correctly not penalized for accidentally moving his ball-marker on the putting green in the process of swatting away a bee.  Apparently, he was initially penalized for the breach and then another official came and informed him there was no penalty.  McDowell was light-hearted about the situation and took the initial incorrect stroke penalty to heart, saying he'd been careless and deserved a penalty.
    The interesting part of this ruling was that a bee is considered to be a loose impediment.  In fact, insects are loose impediments by definition, provided they are not fixed, solidly embedded or adhering to the ball (in the first two cases I would hope the insects were deceased for their own sake). Since the Definition tells us that the insect is a loose impediment, we go to the loose impediment Rule, 23-1 and see that, "On the putting green is the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of the player removing a loose impediment, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the movement of the loose impediment."
    The interesting part of this situation was the initial assessment of the penalty, followed by the correction.  My guess is that the initial understanding of the facts was incorrect, and I've witnessed this happen in one of my own rulings.  Because the movement must be directly-attributable (see Decision 20-1/15), depending on how the situation was initially explained, one official may have misunderstood how the ball-marker was actually moved.
    Three years ago, or perhaps four, I was called to the putting green for a ruling for Pedro Figueredo during the Western Intercollegiate (sorry if I butchered the spelling).  The facts as given to me by Pedro and his fellow-competitors, were that his ball-marker had been moved in the process of making practice strokes near the ball.  They waved the putter, demonstrated the movements and stated that he'd accidentally moved the marker during that process.  I confirmed over the radio for the players that Pedro incurred a one-stroke penalty for the movement and had to replace the marker.  Practice strokes are not a reason that excuse the player from penalty for moving the ball-marker.
     Later that day, I conferred with one of my Committee members who told me about another ruling in that same group where a player accidentally moved his ball-marker in the process of moving some loose sand on the putting green.  The player was correctly not assessed a penalty, when Pedro's teammate spoke up and said, "That's not what we got earlier!"  Well, if you change the facts you get a different answer.  I explained to the Committee member the set of facts given to me earlier, and he stated how the story had started to change.  The next morning Pedro's coach approached me about the situation, stating the changed set of facts, and I told him what was told to me on the course. I confirmed the version of the facts as given to me over the radio in front of the players, had I stated them incorrectly they had every opportunity to say so.  The changing facts were disconcerting and in talking to the coach it was unclear which version he felt was correct and the decision was made to stick with the initial ruling based on the initial facts.
     So back to McDowell, I don't think the changing rulings should raise any alarm, it's just a matter of making sure they got the facts straight.  A unique incident nonetheless.

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